What was going on in the 1960s that made Bob Dylan's song "Blowing in the Wind" so popular? What is he talking about in the song?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two primary issues that drew the attention of 1960s protest movements were the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. However, the anti-war movement did not really reach its peak until the late 1960s. When Dylan wrote this lyric in 1963, anti-war protests were not widespread. Dylan's main focus in the song is civil rights for blacks. Dylan was inspired to write this song after hearing a Civil War era freedom song that he found very moving. He penned the words in about ten minutes while sitting in a cafe. The Civil Rights Movement was in full bloom at that time, and the song was performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial shortly before Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963.

Civil rights are considered poignantly in the song using rhetorical questions. "Before you call him a man" refers to the practice of treating slaves as less than a full person, both politically and practically. The canon balls and the white dove probably refer to the Civil War which was fought to secure freedoms for slaves but which still had not produced full freedom for blacks even a hundred years later. In the second stanza, the slow chipping away at discrimination is likened to the interminable erosion of a mountain, showing the injustice of requiring people to be patient where freedom is concerned. In the third stanza, seeing the sky depicts freedom and opportunity, a simple right guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence that blacks still did not have access to in the 1960s. Asking "how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry" is a call to action to whites to have compassion on their black brothers, and the "deaths" referred to may be deaths such as the brutal murder of Emmett Till in 1955 as well as other lynchings of blacks in the South.

Later the anti-war movement took up Dylan's song, and artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary popularized it as a peace movement piece. However, as originally written, the song advocates for the civil rights of black Americans.